Census complaints continue

It’s census day and everyone is required by law to complete the forms.

As I posted a few days ago, the Waitaki District was used to trial online forms five years ago and the trial was declared a success.

As a result this year instead of hand-delivered paper forms, a letter is supposed to come in the mail giving instructions for how to complete the census online. Those who can’t or don’t want to do that can phone an 0800 census (236787) to request paper forms.

So far so easy, but Facebook, talkback radio and other media are full of complaints about the help line.

I can add an anecdote to that:

A friend called the number, waited a long time and when the call was finally answered found someone with a strong accent at the other line which resulted in difficulties at both ends.

At one stage the man who answered the phone told the called to press the hash key. The caller replied, “The only hash I know is a hash brown”.

It was a witty response but he wasn’t joking. He has never owned a computer or mobile phone and genuinely doesn’t know what a hash key is.

Things got a bit testy after that and he’s not sure if he’s going to get a form in the mail or not. It hadn’t arrived by yesterday and he won’t get mail again until tomorrow.

At least he got the letter with an access code, not everyone has.

Our sharemilker hadn’t got a letter by yesterday morning. His mail box is in a line with ours and ours came last week.

All the mail boxes have our RAPID number but ours is the only house at that address, some of the others are further up the road and one is on another road. I wonder if Statistics NZ understands that a RAPID number on a postal address isn’t necessarily where the people who get the mail live?

I took the electronic option offered last time and didn’t have a problem doing it again this time until I went to fill in a form for our crib.

I don’t remember getting a form there five years ago and as we don’t have a mail box wasn’t expecting one this year. However, when we got there yesterday there was an envelope with census instructions stuck in the door.

I followed the instructions to sign in with the access number then struck a problem. The first task was to fill in the name or names of everyone who’d be there tonight.

We were there last night but won’t be there tonight and there was no option for nobody. I clicked continue and got a response telling me I had to fill in the names. I put nobody nobody and carried on to the questions on the dwelling.

When that was done I got a message saying the process wasn’t complete and everyone present tonight had to fill in a form.

I went back to the form for people and noticed a box which said resident, visitor or away. I clicked on away and got a message saying the form was complete.

What will happen when whoever processes the form gets to nobody nobody?

Why didn’t they ask how often people were in the house? If they’re planning for health and infrastructure the answer to that matters.

We can’t be the only ones with a crib that won’t be occupied tonight and is only used temporarily.

There will be other houses which don’t have permanent residents – we have a friend who lives part time on a farm in Southland, and part time in Queenstown – and also homes whose residents are away tonight.

Why didn’t whoever designed the form think of this and enable people to put not a permanent resident and usually resident but not at home on census night?

If talkback radio is to be believed, forms can be completed until the end of the month. After that someone will visit every dwelling for which forms haven’t been returned.

That might mop up many of those who wouldn’t or couldn’t fill forms in online and didn’t get paper ones.

But it would have been much better to have introduced the online option as they did for the trail in Waitaki last year, by visiting every dwelling and offering paper forms to those who preferred them and leaving the online forms as an opt-in for those who chose it.

This might be the 21st century but there are still a lot of people who either don’t have computers or have them but are concerned about trusting them with their data.

Central and local governments use information gathered from the census for planning and funding. It’s important that the information is both complete and accurate.

Making online forms the preferred option will be cheaper but its false economy if the data gathered is compromised by fewer people completing their forms, or as in the case with our crib, not being able to do so accurately.



3 Responses to Census complaints continue

  1. adamsmith1922 says:

    Reblogged this on The Inquiring Mind and commented:
    Why was there no apparent way to save a PDF for reference


  2. Gravedodger says:

    Maybe the system that Herod used where people had to return to their home town to be counted.
    Wouldna mind a trip back to Kaikoura.
    Mind you that census story has the odd hole in it, as in a four year discrepency in dates.

    “Witness protection”? where the bloody hell are ya two mums James, the biggest event in a ministry role as minister of statistics, and little Jimmie is on a HOLIDAY JAUNT around The Pacific with the First Couple.

    Talkback has been full of people who in light of legal manouvering over morons such as The Wizard avoiding their responsibilities and thereby genuinely revealed as palpably fearful of repercussions for non compliance.
    So many with no computor, and the number of people who have been missed with the serious downgrading of the very efficient army of enumeratorswho mostly knew their area and went to extrordinary lengths to ensure accuracy in the past.

    Should serve as a warning for any intentions to head to Electronic voting of any sort.

    Our lives are somewhat compromised and when I filled out on-line last Thursday without any problems, I was a tad previous when I claimed We would be at Home tonight and not in our Mobile Home anywhere on the Isand as so many of our mates from the Grey Nomads are at this season.of the year.

    The biggest faux Pa came with the claim from the head of Lincoln Student Body who only became aware of the momentous events scheduled for tonight, last Friday??? Is that an indication of the disconnect that seems so much a part of “millenial lifestyles” or what???


  3. Andrei says:

    I think you have to realize that no census has ever been 100% in capturing everyone

    And that there is a trade off between increasing coverage and cost

    Another thing to acknowledge – in the USA a well designed sample was shown to give a better picture of the population than a “full” census because the effort and time could be put into accurately capturing the data for fewer participants

    The point is well over 90% probably close to 99% of the population will be captured with the processes that are in place and the vast majority of us can handle the online mechanism

    Secondly the online process is significantly cheaper removing the costs associated with paper handling, postage and data entry (data entry itself being a point of potential errors – in fact in days of yore the data for each form was entered twice by two different operators compared and corrected if disagreements found – very costly)

    And there are ambiguities in some questions which effect very small numbers of people but will have little effect on the overall statistics – the one I’m familiar with effects “place of Birth” – you have no idea how contentious that can be given the sad history of the 20th century – but in the scheme of collecting accurate statistics a non issue

    Its the old 80 20 rule – 80% of anything is easy, the last 20% takes most of the work

    And there is an asymptote is the increased accuracy worth the cost of acheiving it?


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